Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Smithsonian folklife presents Basque music

The Smithsonian Folk-life Festival starting today on the Mall in Washington DC emphasizes the culture and music of the Basque region of northern Spain, and SW France, which I had visited in April-May 2001.

Much of the material was presented in Basque language .  There also a section of California affected by immigrant culture. 

I saw a costumed folkdancing demonstration, which was mostly in waltz-like rhythms.

Then there was a 45-minute concert of folk music played by two accordions, various homemade wind instruments (used in agriculture to call animals), and unusual percussion.  The rhythms sometimes vacillate from triple to quadruple or duple, resulting in syncopated sequences of 5/4 or 7/4 time briefly.  The harmonies are fairly simple, and the themes are laid out in stanzas in straightforward fashion.  The music is tonal, and does not have a lot of modern dissonance.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Composers need to get commissions: major article in Barron's

Stacy Perman has a major article in Berman’s discussing how new classical music compositions are commissioned today.

Much of the commissioning activity happens in the Los Angeles area (rather than New York).

The article discusses a couple that has provided over $5 million in donations to commission new works.

To join the “club” sponsored by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, one needs a $15000 entry donation.

There is something interesting – and humbling -- about supporting the talent of someone else (very likely young, with student debt perhaps, and trying to get established), rather than proclaiming your own.  I still have my own to develop and complete (as I have been explaining on Wordpress).

However, composers need commissions to make a living, although many composers (especially violin, piano, and organ) also make income from concerts.

You can help by buying tickets to concerts and attending them, and buying music legally from sites like Amazon, BN, and now especially Bandcamp.

One issue, in my mind, is whether music needs to seem clever or gimmicky, or constitute "Gebrauchsmusik".

In the video above, composer Marti Epstein talks about getting commissions for performers whose instruments don’t have a lot of repertoire.  She also got a commission to compose the opera “Rumpelstilskin” , which I will have to look up and see if I can find online later.    (There are also other operas on that tale by Joseph Baber and Jeff Unger.)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

"Stairway to Heaven" lawsuit could chill some composers, songwriters

There’s a lot of talk about the “Spirit v. Zeppelin” suit recently, about the claim that the introductory chords from “Stairway to Heaven” were plagiarized.

There’s a story on the trial now in Rolling Stone by Matt Diehl June 16, 2016.  But there is interesting legal analysis on how Fair Use should work with music elements in Forbes dating back to 2014.

In practice, almost all composing and songwriting involves the possibility of some copying, which sometimes is intentional. Mahler’s Third Symphony opens with a theme that sounds like a paraphrase the famous finale of the Brahms First.  And Mahler’s Fifth opens with a motto obviously related to the Beethoven Fifth.  Shostakovich paraphrased Rossini’s William Tell in one his later symphonies.  Amy Beach used folk songs in her Gaelic Symphony (although these would be traditional), as did Sir Charles Stanford.  Eugen D’Albert makes several allusions to other romantic works in his very interesting Piano Concerto #1 (especially in the slow middle section), a work that ought to be played a lot more.  Younger composers today often get commissions to develop works based on other composers output, although these are usually older sources now in public domain. The Forbes article and video above do discuss the role of transformation in affirmative defense to copyright claims.

 This case is complicated, and I may come back to it later on my new Wordpress blogs.


Ironically, right after I wrote this post, the verdict came down.  Zeppelin did not steel the riff, according to the jury, CBS story.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Music from Interfaith Prayer Service for Orlando

Wednesday night June 15, 2016 at 6:30 PM. The First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington DC sponsored an Interfaith Prayer Service for the People of Orlando and for Peace.

The service opened with the Nimrod variation from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations, played by John Horman. Diane Bish had played the same variation at her concert at First Baptist on Sunday.

The Washington DC Gay Men’s Chorus sung two compositions a cappella:  “Make Them Hear You” by Stephen Flaherty.

Later it sang “True Colors” by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly (source by songwriter, written during AIDS epidemic in 1985).

The names of 49 victims were read.  Prayers were offered from all major faiths.

The candlelight postlude was the spiritual “We Shall Overcome”.

Do I recall “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel (Rogers and Hammerstein, Broadway musical and 1955 film) being performed?